November 05, 2009

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Nov. 30. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.

Myles Brand was president of the NCAA for roughly six years, a stunningly short amount of time given the impact he had on college sports. He led the push for an academic reform package that now holds schools accountable for educating and graduating its players, he tightened recruiting rules, he bolstered the NCAA enforcement staff, and recently turned attention to the need for reform of America's youth basketball system.

When he died of cancer in September at the age of 67, the NCAA lost a true "agent of change," which Brand vowed to be when he took over the NCAA on Jan. 2003.

But for all of Brand's deeds, his greatest accomplishment was how gradually realigned the NCAA's priorities. The two presidents preceding him were a former athletic director and former basketball coach, and the perception, right or wrong, was that athletics trumped academics. The arrival of Brand, a former philosophy professor, brought a shift in, well, philosophy. A priority was placed on educating athletes, on running a clean program, on checks and balances.

Brand did not solve all of the NCAA's problems -- the BCS is still with us and men's basketball remains a cesspool -- but he claimed a seat at the table for the professors and university presidents who had long had their voices muted by the shouts from coaches and athletic directors bent on wining no matter the cost. He emboldened people on the academic side to stand up when they saw wrongdoing and to demand more of the athletes and the coaches who brought them into higher education. This sea change has been so refreshing that is impossible to imagine the NCAA naming anyone but another educator to succeed Brand. There appears no turning back from the course he charted.

Brand's legacy will include an unfairly large chapter on his dealings with Bobby Knight, the legendary basketball coach that Brand fired in 2000 while president of Indiana. To the most unenlightened fans, Brand railroaded a Hoosiers legend and he should be ashamed. But Knight was a jerk, and his abusive behavior left Brand no choice. His firing may have also given Brand a blueprint for how to remake the NCAA. The emphasis on Knight and his basketball program gave the perception that athletics was more important to the Indiana than anything else. Firing Knight brought a needed clarification of the school's priorities.

Two years later, after he took over as NCAA president, Brand began making that same clarification on a much larger on scale. The result has been a titanic shift in the way the NCAA does business. That should be his legacy, and it should earn him Sportsman of the Year.

Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.

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